Refugees Seeking Safety Simulation

An unaccompanied minor undertakes a harrowing journey, all alone, to try to get to the United States. Some are successful, others are not. Whether these children are successful or not in their endeavor, it is a long journey. In order to flee the violence in their own countries, these children will face life-threatening situations along the way.

The Cabrini College freshmen in the communication class LLC/ECG 100 "Our Interdependent World" hosted a Refugees Seeking Safety simulation on Feb. 5 to show the campus community what it is like for refugees to make that trip all alone in order to have the chance at a better life for themselves and their families. The simulation was one part of an entire day of prayer and awareness against human trafficking.

“What we tried to do was create an interactive yet informative simulation about what their journey is like and what it really takes for them to try and make it to the United States,” Anna Laquintano, freshman digital communication and social media major, said. “It is important to raise awareness to this issue so more people have a greater understanding of what happens around the world today.”


Stepping up in line, you received an identity card. Based on one of three brightly colored cards you received, you took a path that would eventually lead to one of three endings. I was a 16-year old girl from Guatemala and it was my fifth time trying to cross the border. Taking the tape-lined path that matched the neon yellow color of my card, I began the journey to my already predetermined finish.

The simulation took all but five minutes to walk through—while, in reality, it could take these children months or years to reach their destination, if they ever reach it.

“These refugees are seeking safety and a better life,” Emily Janny, freshman digital communication and social media major, said. “It shows that the real problem starts in their home countries, not just when they get to the border.”

Some resort to treacherous means to cross the border. Many ride atop “La Bestia,” (The Beast) a train that hundreds of thousands of people use to get to the U.S.-Mexico border. Along the way, many fall victim to the dangers of the train, including losing a limb, being thrown off, or getting caught along the stops the train makes.

The brutal journey is permeated with danger, including gang members and drug traffickers. That was the first obstacle of the simulation. The little amount of (fake) money that I had was stolen by tattoo-covered gang members. But, I was lucky.  For other children, those actuality experiencing this journey, much more is stolen.


That was just it, though. Throughout the simulation, participants came across their friends, acquaintances, and peers. Those who were involved in the simulation weren’t strangers at all—but unaccompanied minors encounter all kinds of peril at the hands of strangers along the way.

After escaping the gang members, the next encounter was with the United States Border Patrol. After giving some context about the situation, the person portraying Border Patrol said that the final leg of the journey could either end three ways: you being reunited with your family that may already be in the U.S., being sent to a safehouse, or getting deported. Should you get sent to court, there if often a language barrier between the judge and those who are getting deported, making the process all the more difficult.

Arriving to another familiar face, I was reunited with my family. I was one of the lucky 5 percent of children who actually get to say that happened. But that isn’t always the ending that waits for these children—some parents will have already started another family, wanting nothing to do with them.

And so goes the cycle of feeling like a stranger in a strange land, as an unaccompanied minor.

Going through the simulation was an important step in realizing the plight that an unaccompanied minor goes through. Participants had the opportunity to show students and even representatives from the Vatican, the Rev. Friedrich Bechina, undersecretary for the Congregation of Higher Education in the Vatican, and Dr. Michael Galligan-Stierle, executive director of the Association of Catholic Colleges & Universities, the obstacles the unaccompanied minors encounter day after day. It gave people insight into the violence, terror and heartbreak that the children endure.


“An event like this is important because you need to raise awareness about issues, especially ones that the public doesn’t know about,” Martin Garcia, a Cabrini missioner who was portraying a gang member during the simulation, said. “A lot of people have this misconception that during the summer, when the 70,000 children came across that they were coming across just to find a place in the United States to seek a better life and that’s part of it but they don’t realize the violence that’s happening in their own countries in Honduras, El Salvador and Guatemala—there is extreme violence going on. Some of it is due to gangs, some of it is actually governments doing death squads to take out members of gangs and a lot of these places that they’re targeting are impoverished places.”

“It’s just really important that we host an event like this to realize that it’s really complex and there’s a lot of need out there, especially for these children who are seeking safety and we have it in our laws that we provide refuge for refugees, for people who are fleeing violence. I think identifying them as refugees, not illegal immigrants, is the main key here.”  

Catholic Relief Services staff were present at the simulation, including Regional Director Maureen McCullough and PJ Craig, Relationship Manager/University Liaison. CRS also works in these countries to address the violence. One program, Youth Build, targets gang-involved and at-risk youth in Central America. This program aims to prevent the threat of violence through teaching various skills, providing vocational training, and becoming involved in and guiding the youth through community service. By creating these opportunities, “84 percent of participants finish their secondary degree as a result of project support and 58 percent of trainees find employment.”

When we strip away all labels--refugee, immigrant, illegal—we arrive at the same common thread, the fact that we are brothers and sisters, part of one human family, made in the image and likeness of God. As we move into the season of Lent, let us have eyes to see, in one another, the very face of God.

Ensure the dignity of every human person. If you would like to take action, let your members of Congress know about the violence and these vulnerable children and families. You can contact your representative through the Action Alert for our "I am Migration" campaign.



Photos by Jill Nawoyski (Cabrini College) / for CRS.


(Note from CRS University: Additionally, here is the link to an article written by Erica Abbott that was published in the Cabrini College's The Loquitur.  The article is titled "Grant will help expand the reach of #RefugeesSeekingSafety simulation.")